By Kelly Mae Ross

College is coming early for six high school students in the Buena Vista district. The students attend a governor’s school on the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College campus in Clifton Forge, where they learn college-level math and science.

The Jackson River Governor’s School student body includes 58 sophomores, juniors and seniors from five local public school districts — Alleghany County, Bath County, Botetourt County, Buena Vista City and Covington City.

Eddie Graham, director of the governor’s school, says one of the biggest benefits of the school is the way it prepares high school students for college.

“It gives them the experience of a college, which really helps the transition,” he said during a Buena Vista School Board meeting. “One of the hardest transitions that a child makes is from high school to college, because they’re really two different worlds.”

Eddie Graham, director of the Jackson River Governor’s School, displays newspaper clippings about past and current governor’s school students that he’s saved and taped to his office door. Photo by Kelly Mae Ross.

During the March 22 meeting, Shelby Smith, a senior at Parry McCluer High School who is taking classes at the governor’s school, spoke about her experience.

“It’s getting me ready for college next year,” she said. “I’ll feel more prepared because I’ll know how college professors teach their classes and everything, which is a very good advantage to have.”

The Jackson River Governor’s School is one of 19 governor’s schools in Virginia that are funded in part by the state and operate during the academic year; more governor’s schools operate during the summer. The schools are designed to offer more challenging coursework in specific subject areas to gifted students.

Students who apply to a governor’s school need to have earned Bs in several high school math and science courses and need recommendations from teachers, administrators and guidance counselors. If a student is accepted, his or her school district pays the tuition.

The Jackson River Governor’s School emphasizes math, science and technology. Students choose the subject areas they want to focus on during their time there. Subjects offered include chemistry, algebra, calculus, biology and physics.  Electives such as meteorology, web-page design and computer programming are also offered.

“I love math and it makes me really happy,” said Smith. “I love calculus. I’m taking physics and calculus and it’s challenging enough.”

Smith wants to attend the Virginia Military Institute and major in mechanical engineering.

The six Buena Vista students who attend the governor’s school are driven from Parry McCluer to Clifton Forge each morning. The drive takes about 40 minutes.

Governor’s school classes run from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Then the students are driven back to Parry McCluer for the remainder of the school day.

The Buena Vista district pays for the transportation. According to the current year’s budget, $8,500 was allocated to governor’s school student transport for the 2011-2012 academic year.

After two years of study at the governor’s school, students earn at least 37 college credits. That allows some students to enter college with sophomore standing, saving them money on tuition.

Since its founding in 1999, the Jackson River Governor’s School has experienced ups and downs.

High school students from five different districts attend classes at the Jackson River Governor’s School.

Three years ago the governing board was concerned about enrollment, Graham said.  At that time the school had 19 students.

“There was real concern about whether or not it would continue,” said Steve Baldridge, former chair of the school’s governing board.

The governing board hired Graham three years ago. He is the first director of the school who does not also teach, giving him more time to focus on recruitment and school improvement, Baldridge said.

Last year the Buena Vista School Board allocated about $18,000 for the students attending the governor’s school this academic year. But slightly less than that amount will be spent because the board planned for seven students to attend instead of six.

At budget work sessions last month the board agreed to continue to pay to send students to the governor’s school next year. But that could change if the City Council gives less funding to the district than anticipated and cuts have to be made, said Darryl Knick, chairman of the school board.

“I know we’re in tough economic times and I know that all school divisions are looking at their budgets,” Graham told the school board during the March 22 meeting. “But the return for your students with an investment in the governor’s school is probably one of the best returns you can get.”


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